One reason I resisted being a “pastor” for so long was all the stereotypes I had in my head for what pastors are supposed to be like. My image always looked something like Mr. Rogers in a sweater and khakis. Warm, personable, emotionally steady, gentle and never, EVER moody. I don’t know where I picked up that image of the pastor, but it certainly wasn’t in the Bible where God’s leaders are all over the map with their varying personalities and wild mood swings.
Moses’ temper tantrum (striking the rock) cost him the Promised Land. Jeremiah was depressed. Elijah withdrew and almost quit ministry. Peter was impulsive and often put his foot in his mouth. James and John had a violent streak earning them the nickname “Sons of Thunder.” John the Baptist was loud and abrasive, maybe wore a camel hair sweater but definitely not Mr. Rogers’ khakis. Paul was prickly and at times butted heads with others.
Ok, even admitting this diversity of characters, I at least thought I could count on Jesus to be the perfect picture of the unflappable, zen-like pastor who was always calm and collected. Or, could I?
Today I noticed and appreciated the little episode in Mark 3:3-6 where Jesus going about his ministry….and we see him breaking my Mr. Rogers-like pastoral mold. For fellow church leaders, its refreshing to see that even Jesus faced some very irritating ministry moments and difficult people. (I have a perfect church, but I’ve heard other pastors have difficult people.)
Let’s take a quick look and I’ll offer some off-the-cuff leadership insights at first glance.
3 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.
There’s nothing more frustrating as a pastor than showing up at church with the sole intention of bringing blessing, hope and some healing to hurting people, but in response you’re met with a cranky parishioner or group of dissenting fault-finders “looking for a reason to accuse” you of some shortcoming and undermine your leadership.
Most pastors know the feeling of going about our ministry duties fully aware there’s one or two people who are “watching closely to see” if they can catch us doing something wrong. Here we have Pastor Jesus, trying to heal a crippled hand, and still getting heat from the head of the staff-parish relations committee.
In the early church, pastors were condemned as heretics for denying the full humanity of Christ. Today pastors are often rewarded for denying their own full humanity in leadership.
3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
(Just a passing side note on the power and need for public testimony in our ministries. If Christ has recently brought healing to someone in our midst, let’s invite them to “stand up in front of everyone” and testify! Are people being ministered to quietly in our churches, but nobody is hearing about it? Read the Book of Acts and you’ll discover the early church grew rapidly more by the personal testimony of ordinary lay people than by leadership strategies or powerful preaching by professional religious leaders.)
4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
Wow. Jesus is being very direct and very black and white in his public address. How is he ever going to reach postmodern millennials with such simplistic black and white rhetoric? Even the most skeptical postmodern seeker recognizes the difference between experiencing something that is “life-giving” and something that is “life-draining” or “soul-killing.”
I also like that Jesus subtly moves a legalistic conversation away from the question of whether some religious practice is “lawful” or “unlawful” to instead whether something is life-enhancing and good. I guess Jesus does strike a chord with the average church-weary millennial by emphasizing a faith that is experiential — meeting a real, felt need — and not just “preaching the truth” or trying to tell people what’s right and what’s wrong — as important as that is.
And, notice his leadership is not driven by his need for the praise of the congregation, as the main response he gets is a long, awkward, room-clearing silence. Hmmm…I’ve had those Sundays, too.
Now back to the crux of my original point: Jesus had days and ministry moments when “He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts…”
Pastor Jesus was angry. Fed up. Weary. Losing patience with his fickle and foolish flock. And I love that.
I have those moments, too. But I usually feel incredibly guilty and unloving when I find myself angry and losing patience with the people got has called me to shepherd. Again, my church happens to be perfect, but I know other pastors who have moments when they want to give up on the people who keep getting themselves into the same rut, by repeating the same mistakes, and refusing to heed any of the biblical admonitions they continue to give out in every Sunday sermon (that those people never show up to hear).
I try to look around the room with endless compassion and love; but I’m admittedly thrilled to see that on certain occasions even Jesus himself “looked around the room in anger” and “deeply distressed” over the “stubborn hearts”of his congregation.
That gives me much relief and hope. Jesus here gives me permission to feel what I feel at times. Like a loving father losing sleep a child’s self-destructive decision, I am given permission to lose some peace over a congregant’s ongoing sin-pattern.
Yet, this passage also gives me hope and relief for another reason. When I’m most honest with myself, I’m right there in the middle of the crowd, one of the stubborn, slow to learn people whom Jesus endlessly puts up with. I have been the source of some of Jesus’ anger and deep distress no doubt. Fortunately, “His anger lasts only a moment, but his kindness lasts for a lifetime” (Ps. 30:5).
Finally, though we’re given permission to feel angry and distressed at times as leaders, we’re also challenged to respond in such moments in life-giving, redemptive ways rather than angry, destructive ways. In the middle of Jesus’ near ministry-meltdown moment, he doesn’t fly off the handle and storm out of the room. He doesn’t get short with the secretary. He doesn’t shoot off the angry email. He doesn’t send the impulsive text message before thinking. Instead, Jesus transforms his angry energy into healing energy:
[He] said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
How many times have I let one negative interaction color the rest of my day? How often has one critical comment or troubled person distracted me from getting on with the other positive ministry that awaits? Fill in the blank below.
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts…he __________.
I’m embarrassed to admit how I usually fill in that blank. “Lost his temper” or “Sent off an angry email” or “Rebuked them harshly” or whatever. But what did Jesus do?
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts…he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” …And his hand was COMPLETELY RESTORED.
May we give ourselves permission to be completely human in our leadership and ministry. But may we also invite the Holy Spirit to enable us to lead in ways that transform our negative emotions into positive restorative actions.